Our Wellington

News | 8 March 2021

Wellington’s wonderful wāhine

We’re celebrating International Women’s Day by highlighting some of the incredible wāhine who have called Wellington their home.

Painting of Carmen Rupe from the neck up wearing a clip in her hair and smiling.

Carmen Rupe

Carmen Rupe (pictured above) was Aotearoa’s first Māori drag performer, a transgender woman and an activist for gay and transgender rights. In 1977 she ran for Mayor of Wellington on a platform of gay marriage, anti-discrimination and legalised brothels. Her iconic silhouette now replaces the ‘green man’ at four intersections along Cuba Street where her colourful community thrived.

Katherine Mansfield

Katherine Mansfield was an internationally acclaimed writer best known for her Modernist short stories. She died tragically at the age 34 from tuberculosis. Her birthplace on Tinakori Road in Thorndon has been preserved as the Katherine Mansfield House & Garden

Black and white photograph of Katherine Mansfield house and garden.
Wellington City Council Archives, 00158-2119-b

Patricia Grace

Patricia Grace was a key figure in Māori literature and published the first collection of short stories to be written by a Māori wahine. She was born in Wellington in 1937 and studied at St Mary’s College. She has been appointed a Companion of the Queen's Service Order, a Distinguished Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit and been awarded with numerous honorary doctorates. Her quotes have been carved in stone as part of the Wellington Writers Walk.

Monique Fiso

Monique Fiso is considered one of New Zealand’s most important chefs, combining traditional Māori cooking techniques with Michelin training. She owns and operates Hiakai restaurant in Wellington which was named one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Greatest Places of 2019. Check out the original consent and plans for the house where Hiakai is now located, pictured below. 

Technical line drawing of old house on aged brown paper.
Wellington City Council Archives, 00053-2112

Jane Campion

Dame Elizabeth Jane Campion is a screenwriter, producer and director, best known for films like The Piano, Angel at My Table and Bright Star. She is the second of five women ever nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director. She was appointed a Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the 2016 New Year Honours, for services to film.

Annie McVicar

Annie McVicar became Wellington’s first female Councillor in 1921 and was also a delegate to the International Alliance of Women for Suffrage and Equal Citizenship in Berlin in 1929. You can learn more about Annie’s accomplishments on the Archives website

Tala Cleverley 

Tala Cleverley was the first Pasifika Councillor for Wellington City Council, and the first Pasifika person elected to local government anywhere in Aotearoa New Zealand. She was first sworn in as a Councillor in 1979 and stood through to 1995, during which time her work focused on helping Pacific people living in Wellington to have a voice in the community. You can find out more about Tala on the Archives website. 

Tala Cleverly photograph portrait with blue background.
Wellington City Council Archives, 00362-7

Judge Carolyn Henwood 

After graduating with a Bachelors of Law from Victoria University, Judge Henwood became the first female judge of the District Court in Wellington. She served a prominent role in youth justice, working as a Youth Court Judge and establishing a trust which provides advice and services to people and organisations working with young offenders. You can read Judge Henwood's alumni profile on the Victorica University of Wellington website. 

Ruth Gotlieb

Ruth was an Eastern Ward Councillor here in Wellington between 1983 and 2001. During her time here she established the Wellington Youth Council, helped set up a mobile library, fought for the hydrotherapy pool at Kilbirnie Aquatic Centre, and sat on the board that oversaw the upgrade of Wellington Hospital. Ruth passed away in 2019 but her legacy lives on in the Ruth Gotlieb library in Kilbirnie which was named after her. 

Ruth Gotlieb holding a yellow balloon in a library with another woman in a red party hat.
Wellington City Council Archives, 00521-138-b

We are so proud of the achivements of our Wellington wāhine. If you know a woman who deserves to be celebrated, let them know today - and every other day of the year. 

Happy International Women's Day!